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Alteratives: The Herbal Blood Cleansers

Alteratives: The Herbal Blood Cleansers


The herbal blood cleansers

The incredible value of alteratives as effective blood cleansers cannot be understated. Like the adaptogens, alterative herbs also exert a holistic, tonic action that restores normal balance and function of the bodily systems and organs to increase health and vitality. However it is the alterative herb that alters the body’s processes of metabolism so that tissues can best deal with a range of functions from nutrition to elimination. Many alterative herbs are rich in minerals, vitamins and other trace elements and highly nourishing substances. Furthermore, most alteratives are alkalising to the blood and help neutralise excess acid in the system. Some work by stimulating digestive function and some are immunomodulators or anti-microbial. As stimulants, they mildly stimulate and activate the vital organic functions of the liver and gall bladder. Many herbs have an alterative function and it can often be their secondary or tertiary action. For example, diuretic & hepatic remedies could also be seen as alteratives. 

Alteratives shift stagnant states

Alteratives move the body to a state of health, removing indicators of systemic disintegration. They can be used safely in many diverse conditions as supportive remedies and should definitely be considered when chronic inflammatory or degenerative disease exists.  Skin conditions, arthritis and autoimmune diseases can especially be improved by using alteratives. Traditional western practitioners called the condition in which you would use alterative herbs “bad blood syndrome”. This was associated with a build up of waste products and toxins stagnating within the tissues and congesting the channels of elimination. As well as this, a patient would also present with dampness accumulating (oedema, swellings, puffiness, swollen lymph nodes), poor sluggish digestion (constipation), chronic skin conditions (eczema, acne, boils), infections (low grade fever, septicaemia, chronic infections, low immunity), chronic fatigue and low energy levels, to the most severe which would be things like tumours, malignancies and cancer.

Blood and Lymph work hand in hand

The term “blood cleansing” comes from an older time when blood and lymph were not seen as being separate from each other. When people referred to blood-purifying or blood-cleansing herbs, they were actually talking about herbs that help to purify the lymphatic portion of the circulatory system. The lymphatic and circulatory systems work very much hand-in-hand and although blood should always remain contained within the cardiovascular system, lymph fluid has free reign to flow between the circulatory system, lymphatic system and throughout all the extracellular spaces. We want circulation to be good both in the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. The circulatory system takes care of itself because a pumping heart governs it. The lymphatic system, on the other hand, has no central pump to do the same for lymph. By keeping lymph moving and predominantly clear of toxins, we also keep blood clear of the same and we also maintain a healthier and more efficient immune system. 

“There are no incurable diseases, only the lack of will. There are no worthless herbs, only the lack of knowledge.” ~ Avicenna

The master detoxifiers

If the blood and lymphatic system were pure, no disease would exist. Blood cleansing, alterative herbs catalyse a natural detoxification, opening a variety of eliminatory systems to keep the blood and lymph clean and clear from the build-up of toxins and inflammatory agents. This also includes the viscosity of lymph fluid itself. By helping to disperse toxic buildup in the interstitial fluid, alteratives aid the body to properly remove toxins and therefore, improve the metabolism, supporting proper absorption and delivery of nutrients and insure healthy elimination. Alteratives are masters of proper elimination, they mainly work on the kidneys, liver, lungs, the lymphatic system and the skin.

Microorganisms are entering our bodies all the time. We also produce endotoxins as a normal process of cellular metabolism and this has to be dealt with too. Toxic build-up includes pesticides, chemicals, environmental toxins and the normal waste products associated with metabolism like protein wastes, cellular debris, hormones etc. Alteratives impact and enhance each organ-system with its own eliminatory function: The lungs are exhaling carbon dioxide and water vapour, among other things. The large intestine is eliminating faecal matter. The lymph is circulating and helping to keep our blood clean. The liver acts as the main processing and detoxing organ of the body. The kidneys are helping to excrete toxins from your body through urine. The skin is also helping to release toxins through sweating.

Clearing elimination avenues

The skin would rather not be a primary eliminatory organ, other than eliminating sweat and venting excess heat. It would rather that other eliminatory organs such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, colon and lymphatic system take the lion’s share of eliminating toxins. If one organ works at half capacity, another organ has to pick up the slack. In many cases, it can fall upon the skin, which then may break out with rashes or other skin eruptions.

In regard to skin, herbs that help open pores and vent heat and moisture are called diaphoretics and sudorifics. Diaphoretics open up the vents and release heat, while sudorifics are more inclined to release moisture as well. If we’re talking about the lungs, then in addition to all the things we can do with exercise and hydration for lung health, there are herbs that help to keep the lungs optimally functional and promote strong expectoration. Expectorant and pectoral herbs (lung tonics) are also types of alteratives.

Altering the liver’s condition

Alteratives can help to restore sluggish liver functions. The liver has a wide variety of functions and tasks including helping to keep blood and lymph clear of toxins. If the liver becomes dysfunctional, so does proper elimination and other organs have to take over the job. In traditional Chinese medicine, toxins of the blood and toxin-producing infections are considered ‘excess heat’. Since the liver is associated with heat, too much heat can create extreme imbalance. Herbs that fall into the taste categories of sour and bitter best support the liver’s health and function. Sour herbs help to cool and tone the liver, while many bitter herbs known as cholagogues are energetically cooling and help the liver make and secrete bile. Bile, which is also bitter, not only supports peristalsis, but also helps in fat digestion and serves to dump many toxins directly into the intestines for eventual elimination. Superior cooling, bitter cholagogues include dandelion root and leaf, burdock root and seed, artichoke leaf and milk thistle. There are also warming bitters, herbs that contain bitter principles as well as warming volatile oils that aid liver function and digestion in multiple ways. 

Herbalism is a religion of Nature, representing a balance of head and heart” Michael Tierra

The Ayurvedic perspective

The Ayurvedic perspective on alteratives is that they restore the proper function of the body by cleansing the blood and balancing blood chemistry. In Ayurveda terms, they pacify “Pitta in rakta”. They were traditionally used to revitalise and                detoxify after a long winter. The ideal alterative clears toxins (ama) from the blood by these actions:

 Cholagogue - Extracting toxins in bile, refreshing the blood

 Livotonic / Hepatoprotective - Improving the liver's ability to clear toxins

 Cooling - To relieve the liver

 Sour - Flushing glands to recalibrate the blood

 Bitter - Stimulates digestion & mild laxative to clear the bowels

 Diuretic - To remove toxins from the body

When in doubt, use alteratives

As most alteratives are very gentle and work over a longer period of time, they should be the first group of herbs to consider when working with chronic inflammatory and degenerative diseases. These include skin issues, digestion issues, heat and dryness, cysts, arthritis, gout and autoimmune conditions. It is important to note that initially after starting treatment, skin eruptions can worsen. This is because the skin has already been trying to push these ‘stuck wastes’ out and with the help of alteratives, now get’s a ‘push’ to finish this task. Therefore, before improvement is seen, initial worsening may happen, usually lasting for only a short period of time. Remember that excessive use of alterative herbs may cause frequent urination. Whether the condition is internal (chronic) or external (acute) the blood needs to be purified. It is one of the main therapies that can be used alongside any other therapy employed.

“We are like the herb which flourish most when it is most trampled on.” ~ Walter Scott

Blood purification protocols

Alteratives are best supported with a holistic treatment protocol that includes dietary, physical, emotional and other lifestyle changes. Whenever there is illness, blood purification, along with bowel cleaning, (enemas, colonics) should be considered to assist the detoxification process. Short fasts using herbal teas with alterative herbs, vegetable broths, raw vegetable juices like carrot, celery, beet, water cress will help neutralise poisons in the bloodstream and stimulate the functions of the liver, bowels and kidneys. Deep breathing and exercise will help in lung and skin elimination, Dry skin brushing and hydrotherapy will help clean the blood and lymph and is ideal for elderly people and weak individuals who cannot move around easily and be exposed to more energetic therapies. Take alterative herbal teas and decoctions between meals on an empty stomach

Alteratives improve detoxification by the liver and kidneys that indirectly cleanses the chakras and releasing emotional stagnation that results in increased overall energy, strength and vitality.

Excellent alterative herbs

Burdock, alfalfa, echinacea, nettles, dandelion, red clover, milk thistle, blessed thistle, oregon grape root, red clover, barberry, aloe vera, lemongrass, chickweed, sarsaparilla, rosemary, calendula, yarrow, black cohosh, bladderwrack, dong quai, damiana, elecampane

Alterative Essential Oils for Detoxification 

Essential oils bring a lot to the table with supporting the detoxification process. Many oils support many different parts of the body like the liver, lungs, kidneys and lymphatic system. 

  1. Rosemary has a range of benefits that include powerful antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and detoxifying properties. Inhaling rosemary oil boosts the immune system by stimulating internal antioxidant activity and helps the body fight illnesses caused by free radicals. It further detoxifies by promoting healthy digestion, relieving bloating and craps and constipation relief. 
  1. Lemon oil has many purifying benefits and can help to soothe digestive problems. It promotes detoxification through the blood and liver and it also stimulates lymphatic drainage, which helps to remove bodily waste. 
  1. Peppermint contains menthol, an organic compound that naturally alleviates gastric discomfort. Inhaling and ingesting peppermint helps relax the stomach muscles, which relieves any flatulence or bloating which supports digestive detoxification. 
  1. Grapefruit is the king oil for detoxification and works as a natural antibacterial agent reducing or eliminating harmful strains of bacteria that enter the body through contaminated foods, water or parasites including E. Coli and salmonella. Grapefruit oil also boosts weight loss by rebooting a sluggish lymphatic system.
  1. Juniper Berry is packed with antioxidant and antibacterial benefits that detoxify the body from waste and acidic toxins. This oil may increase the rate of kidney filtration, helping to wash out excess bacteria. This enhances digestion, which helps the body eliminate any gas or cramping. 
  1. Eucalyptus detoxifies the lungs of congestion and clears phlegm-causing coughs. Inhaling eucalyptus for at least five minutes results in a cooling sensation that increases nasal airflow for people with an upper respiratory infection. 
  1. Fennel has diaphoretic properties that stimulate perspiration and increase urination; this helps the body remove toxins and also reduces urinary tract issues. Excess water, salts, uric acid, urea are flushed out of the body including bile and other unwanted lingering substances. Fennel purifies the blood and lowers blood pressure levels. 
  1. Cypress improves lymph flow and blood circulation being one of the best fluid balancers, dispersing excess for the body. It is also valuable to clear lung congestion and clear sinuses. It eases anger and annoyance due to its liver detoxifying qualities improving liver function

“The secrets are in the plants, to elicit them, you have to love them enough.” George Washington Carver

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